University of Kentucky baseball head coach John Cohen has resigned as coach of the Wildcats, and associate head coach Gary Henderson has been promoted to the top spot, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart announced Friday afternoon.
Henderson, UK's associate head coach and pitching coach for the past five years, becomes the 25th head coach in the 104-year history of Wildcat baseball. Henderson has been a cornerstone in the success of the UK program over the past five years, helping transform the Wildcats into an annual national contender. Henderson's 2008 staff was the best in the Southeastern Conference, pacing the conference with a 3.71 team ERA, ranking as the second-best ERA in school history.
"I am very excited to be named the Kentucky baseball coach," Henderson said. "It has been a true honor to work for coach Cohen, Mitch Barnhart and Rob Mullens over the past five years. I felt when I was coming here that we could do some great things at Kentucky and that Mitch would support the program however necessary to make is successful. I look forward to getting back to work at cementing UK's position among the elite programs in the nation."
A former National Assistant Coach of the Year in 1996 at Florida, Henderson will be taking his second collegiate head coaching job, with assistant coaching stops at San Diego State, Fullerton State, Riverside CC, Pepperdine, Florida and Oregon State. Henderson's head coaching experience came previously as the head coach at Chapman University (Calif.), where he helped transition the program to Division I, guiding the program to a national ranking in just its first year.
Cohen informed Barnhart Friday morning of his decision to resign in order to accept another job.
"We are extremely excited to name Gary Henderson the next head coach at Kentucky," Barnhart said. "For over a decade, Gary has been one of the top assistant coaches in the country and he has been instrumental in transforming the UK baseball program into a national contender. Gary is one of the most organized coaches in the business, someone who is meticulous in his preparation and a coach with a tremendous amount of baseball knowledge."
Cohen, a native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., took the head coaching position at Kentucky before the 2004 season, after serving as an assistant coach at Florida. Cohen compiled a 175-112-1 record as the UK head coach from 2004-2008, posting the best winning percentage for a UK skipper since 1921.
Henderson's impact on the UK pitching staff has been drastic, helping transform the Wildcat staff into one of the top in the nation. Individually, impact can be seen by the improvements made to senior pitchers Andrew Albers, Brock Baber and Greg Dombrowski, a trio which exits UK among the pitching record holders. UK's 2007-08 Friday night starter Chris Rusin became the first Wildcat pitcher tabbed as a first-team selection since Scott Downs in 1997.
Henderson's pitching staff became a force during the 2006 SEC Championship season, ranking third in the conference in ERA. The Wildcats' pitching staff continued to improve under Henderson, as the team improved from a 5.23 ERA in 2005 to a 3.95 ERA during 2006. In 2008, despite playing in a "hitters ballpark", Henderson's pitching staff allowed the fewest home runs in the SEC.
Henderson's impact can not only be seen in the pitching staff but also in his recruiting ability. His impact was immediate upon his arrival, as UK's first recruiting class under Cohen was hailed as one of the top 25 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball. Henderson has continued to recruit the best players in the country, as the 2007 class was ranked among the nation's best and the 2008 class was tabbed No. 31. Henderson's 2009 class has the preliminary indications to be one of the top classes in the nation, boasting five players among the top 50 in high school baseball.
Prior to his current post, Henderson spent the five seasons as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Oregon State. Oregon State notched the school's first ever College World Series title in 2006, riding the arms of several players recruited by Henderson. The most notable was CWS MVP Kevin Gunderson, who pitched a brilliant post-season in leading the Beaver's to the title.
At Oregon State, Henderson coached eight Beaver pitchers who were drafted by major league teams, five of whom were selected in the top eight rounds. With the help of Henderson's recruiting efforts, the Beavers improved from 19 wins in 1999 to 31 in both the 2001 and 2002 seasons, finishing 31-24 and 31-23, respectively. In his time with the Beavers, two of Henderson's recruiting classes were ranked among the top 30 nationally. Meanwhile, his pitching staff led the Pac-10 Conference in complete games in both the 2000 and 2001 seasons.
In 1996, Collegiate Baseball newspaper tabbed Henderson as the National Assistant Coach of the Year. At the time, he was in his second year at Florida, where he served as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the Gators from 1995-98. In that time, he helped the Gators to the SEC Championship and the College World Series in both 1996 and 1998. Collegiate Baseball awarded national rankings to all four of Henderson's recruiting classes at Florida, including a No. 4 spot in 1996.
In his playing days, Henderson pitched one year at Linfield College before transferring to San Diego State. He compiled a 19-5 career record at the two schools.
Henderson earned a bachelor's degree in English from San Diego State and a master's degree in sports psychology from SDSU.
Henderson and his wife, Vicki, have two sons, Alex (22) and Ty (6).